Under pressure, Australia plans to remove some 40 children still suffering in offshore migrant detention camps on Nauru. It's unclear what will happen to them and their families once they receive medical treatment.
Traumatized children languishing in Australian-run offshore migrant detention centers will be removed by the end of the year, the Australian government said on Thursday.
Some 40 children remain in migrant detention camps on the Pacific island of Nauru; more than 240 have been relocated in the past few years. Last week, there were 52 children on the island.
"Children have been transferred off Nauru. That's been happening for some time," Prime Minister Scott Morrison told 2GB radio on Thursday. "I haven't been showboating about it, I haven't been drawing attention to it. It's being done in accordance with our policies, our existing policies."
Earlier, former attorney general George Brandis, now Australia's high commissioner to Britain, said in an interview with LBC radio in London that the government would remove the children within weeks.
"There are hardly any children in Nauru and in New Guinea and we expect that by the end of this year there will be none," Brandis said.
Asylum-seekers attempting to reach Australia by boat are intercepted and either pushed back or the occupants are detained to be brought to offshore detention centers. The policy is meant to discourage migrant boats from attempting the trip to Australia.
Human rights groups have long criticized Australia's offshore detention policy as amounting to arbitrary detention and a violation of the country's international commitments.
Some migrants have been in offshore camps in horrible conditions for nearly five years, while doctors say children suffer from medical and psychiatric problems.
About 1,100 asylum-seekers remain on Nauru and 46 children have been born in detention since 2012. A detention center on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island was shut down in October 2017.
The Asylum Seeker Resource Center urged the government to "transfer all 38 children and their families to Australia immediately for proper medical care to save lives."
The NGO says 28 children on Nauru are in need of urgent medical care.
Morrison, a former immigration minister, said the refugees would not be settled in Australia.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said in a separate 2GB radio interview that the government has been clear that migrants would be sent somewhere else once they receive treatment and would not be settled in Australia.
He said that the government would like to get children off Nauru but in a way "that's not going to restart boats."
It is unclear whether children will be joined by their families.
The prime minister has faced mounting pressure to allow the children on the island to come to Australia to receive treatment.
His Liberal Party needs the support of a handful of independent lawmakers in the lower house who want the Nauru issue resolved before providing their backing.
A poll conducted over the weekend showed that 79 percent of respondents want the government to move children and their families from Nauru.
To date, only a limited number of refugees on Nauru or from Manus have been resettled in the United States under a deal between Australia and former US President Barack Obama.